A short story for Remembrance Day

THE ROSE

by Suzan St Maur

story for Rememberance Day

The gravel hitting the window caused me to wake with a start. I curled back the curtain and looked out. Silly lad. I silently raised the sash.

“I thought you were going back to the base tonight!”

“I was. I did.” Will stage-whispered. “Then I went out again. Back door, so to speak.”

“Ooh, naughty.”

“It gets naughtier. Our lot’s been postponed till tomorrow night. Come on down, it’s ever so nice out.”

I quickly threw on my shirt and Land Army trousers. I crept out of the front door.

“Allo, gorgeous Meg.” Before I could draw breath he had kissed me hard for several beautiful seconds. “Come on, let’s go up the park.”

He lit two cigarettes and passed one to me as we settled down on the damp grass. “There’s talk of an invasion, pet. Going to get in there and give Jerry a damned good hiding.”

“When’s that going to be then?”

For a few seconds we gazed at the red tips of our cigarettes glowing in the gloom. “Can’t say, pet. Top secret. But us lot’s going over there first to soften them up, like.”

Please God let him come home safe. Please.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old

“Cat got your tongue? Are you alright?”

I nestled my face in the roughness of his uniform.

“Come on, pet. War’ll be over soon.”

I started to cry softly.

“We’ll have old Jerry whipped in no time. You’ll see. Then when I’m home p’raps we shall get engaged.”

“I love you, Will Prentice.”

“Show me how much.”

He slid a hand under my shirt, then skillfully dealt with the buttons on my trousers. “I hope there’s no nettles round here,” I giggled.

“You won’t notice them,” Will said in a hoarse voice as he manoeuvred us round. We joined together, our passion heightened by the threat of being discovered – and of impending danger beyond.

For what seemed like a lifetime we crested our wave, light years away from the awfulness of war.

“Bit weird, like. I’m always going backwards.”

Our breathing synchronized, our hearts beating in time. A warm breeze tickled our skin. Neither of us wanted even to whisper for fear of bursting the bubble.

“Fancy a smoke, pet?” Will reached for his trousers and after some fumbling produced two lit Senior Services. We smoked silently, cuddling and watching the stars.

“What’s it like up there, Will?”

“What, in the Lancs? Bit weird, like. I’m always going backwards.”

“Silly, that’s because you’re a rear gunner. Is it really scary though?”

“Tell you what, it’s ruddy cold up there.”

“How cold?”

“Oh, minus forty or so. That’s at thirty-odd thousand feet.”

“Horrible. Scary.”

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

Will sniggered.

“Aren’t you frightened then? When you’re up there?”

“Those Lancs are stronger than tanks. It’d take more than a few poncey little Messerschmitts to do us any damage. And we fly way above the ACAC. Don’t even come close.”

“I hope you’re right, Will.”

“Better go back now, pet. Be getting light soon and I don’t want no Squadron Leader spotting me shinning up that drainpipe.”

“Drainpipe?”

“’Course. Right by the window. Easy as pie. Might a bit harder going back up than coming down, mind.”

“Stay safe, Will. I love you.”

“And I love you, pet. Oh, wait up. Got something for you.”

Will reached into his jacket and pulled out a single red rose. “Here.”

story for Rememberance Day

“Got something for you.”

“Oh, Will, it’s beautiful.”

“Pinched it out of the park, but don’t tell anyone. Tada.”

I watched him walk away into the growing dawn. As his image faded into the distance I heard the familiar growls of the Lancs coming back to base. I could make out damage on some, spluttering, misfiring engines, smoke streaming out behind them. Stay safe Will. Please.

Creeping into the house, I placed the red rose on my pillow. I crawled under the coverlet, cried a little, inhaled the fresh scent of the rose. Fell asleep.

I woke up late and stumbled downstairs to fetch the post. I felt dreadfully hungover. Strange.

“Morning, Miss,” said an elderly female voice. “You must be the new girl what’s in the Varley’s old house.”

“Yes, hello,” I said, wishing this conversation could take place when my head wasn’t throbbing.

“What did you say your name was, love?”

I hadn’t, but OK. Just answer briefly and perhaps she’ll go away. “I’m Meg.”

At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.

“How funny. I’m Elizabeth Prentice. That’s Miss. Never married. Anyway my brother Will was in love with the Varley’s daughter here. Her name was Meg.”

“Really? Where is he now?”

“Dead. Killed. Only 25. In the RAF, he was. Lancaster bomber in 1944. Just before D Day. Shot down in flames so they said.” She sniffed.

“I’m so sorry. Would you excuse me, Miss Prentice? I really must have a look at something.” Something jangled loudly in the white noise in my head.

I walked over to the flower bed immediately under my bedroom window. Gravel. In the neat soil.

So much for being PC and all the careful recycling of the 21st century, eh. My head hurt. Throbbing. A memory trying to get through. What?

I went inside. I hauled myself up the stairs and sat down on my bed. Now the room started to spin and I felt sick. Must lie down. Head on the pillow.

Something lightly scratched my cheek.

I turned my head and I could smell something perfumed. Instantly my head cleared and the pain disappeared.

story for Rememberance Day

Must lie down. Head on the pillow.

It all came back to me.

I opened my eyes and began to shiver.

Next to me on the pillow was a single, fresh red rose.

 

This story has won an award in a US literary magazine and has been published in an anthology of short stories in the UK.

© Suzan St Maur 2019

Photo of the rose by Denis Agati on Unsplash

Excerpts from the poem by Laurence Binyon, 1914

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